Benishoga is one of the most popular types of pickled ginger in Japan, along with gari. Instantly recognisable due to its bright red colour which it gets from the red perilla leaf, it is pickled in a solution left over from the production of umeboshi pickled apricots. It is then usually shredded, and sprinkled on a wide range of popular dishes including o-konomiyaki (savoury pancakes), yakisoba (stir-fried noodles) and gyudon (beef and rice bowl), to which it adds an invigoratingly sharp flavour.
Along with rakkyo, fukujinzuke is one of the most popular of Japanese pickled accompaniments, particularly with curry. Made from various finely-chopped vegetables such as radish, aubergine, cucumber, lotus root and shiso buds, it is pickled in soy sauce, sugar or mirin and a range of other spices. The pickles are named after the traditional Shinto Seven Gods of Fortune (Shichi Fukujin). The savoury taste, subtle sweetness and pleasingly crunchy texture mean that fukujinzuke are also appreciated as a popular accompaniment to white rice.
Gari is prepared by taking thin slivers of ginger root and then pickling them in plum vinegar, giving it a slightly sweet taste, striking pink colour and a pungent aroma. It is most commonly eaten with sushi, for which it is an essential accompaniment. This is not only because of its antibacterial qualities, which make it ideal for eating with raw fish, but also for its effectiveness in cleansing and refreshing the palate between dishes allowing the taste of the fish to be fully appreciated.
Japanese curry, a milder variation of the Indian dish, is an everyday favourite and is usually served with pickled vegetables such as rakkyo (scallions), which are normally pickled in salt (shiozuke), soy sauce (shoyuzuke) or vinegar and sugar (amazuzuke). Rakkyo has a crisp texture with real bite, and a flavour which is not entirely dissimilar to onion and garlic. Rakkyo's reputation as a vegetable full of healthy properties continues to grow steadily outside of Japan.
A popular accompaniment to alcohol, shiokara is made from the meat of a variety of fish and other seafood such as squid, oysters, shrimp and sea urchin roe in a thick brown paste. The paste is made by salting the internal organs of the seafood and fermenting them with malted rice for a month. Shiokara is certainly an acquired taste, with a flavour that packs a potent punch and lingers in the mouth long after eating it.
Takuan is made by pickling daikon, the large white Japanese radish, in rice bran. Usually served in small slices, takuan has a satisfyingly crunchy texture and sharp, tangy flavour, and accompanies many Japanese foods, often as one of a number of small dishes along with miso soup and rice. Beneficial to health, takuan is very rich in vitamin B. It is one of the most traditional of Japanese pickles and is named after the Buddhist priest who is said to have introduced the food.
Tsukemono are a cornerstone of the Japanese diet, usually eaten as a side dish with rice. There are various types depending on the pickling method used. Nukazuke are made from fresh vegetables like cucumbers and Chinese cabbage, pickled in a pot of nuka (rice bran). Other types of pickles include sokusekizuke (quickly prepared pickles), kasuzuke (pickled in sake lees) and kojizuke (pickled in malted rice). Salt used in the pickling process helps the water in the vegetables to seep out, creating the characteristic texture of tsukemono.
Tsukudani is traditionally made from seaweed and possesses a potent flavour. It is usually eaten in small quantities with a bowl of boiled rice. It originates from Tsukudajima Island, Tokyo, where it was first made in the Edo era but is now eaten across Japan. The seaweed is cooked, with soy sauce used in the process along with mirin and dashi which help preserve the ingredients naturally for 2 to 3 months. Nowadays, there are many variations, which are made from small fish and shellfish.
Sun-dried, salted, then pickled with shiso (red perilla leaves), umeboshi is a common everyday breakfast pickle in Japan, eaten with rice and miso soup. Loved in Japan both for its piquant taste and its medicinal properties, umeboshi is said to be extremely beneficial to the digestive system. Delicious rice balls can be made by enclosing umeboshi in rice and wrapping it in nori seaweed. Umeboshi can also be used in a range of other dishes, in alcoholic drinks, and also as a wonderful palate-cleanser.